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Along the way, you'll meet some of the warm, spirited, and often humorous members of the church where she worships. Its urban neighborhood provides soulsaving challenges to the church, but, the faithful members must press on.
Will Nikolis stay out of her own way and let God direct her steps? Her account of what goes on Behind Church Doors is an intriguing look at how imperfect people travel the pathway to a perfect God. Join the journey!
Nikolis McQuaige is the name on my birth certificate, but I prefer to be called NikkiMac. I didn't give myself that nickname; my sister friend Jacee gave it to me. One day long ago, she and I were both "cuttin' the fool," as our old southern relatives say. Good-natured ribbing has been our pattern since the start of this friendship.
"Girl, I've been meaning to ask you this for the longest time. Nikolis sounds like a boy's name. How did your parents come up with that first name for you?" We were walking over the Southard Street Bridge on our way home from Junior High School Number One.
"Jacee, you know that my father's first name is Nickson and my mother's first name is Alice. Being the creative people they are, they sort of combined the two and came up with Nikolis. Mom says that they can hear the flavor of both of their names when they say mine. I like that. But excuse you, Missy. You truly don't have room to talk, because your first and middle names are unusual names also, Jacee Fontinetta. You sound like a country cousin."
"Oh no you didn't just crack on me like that, Nikolis McQuaige!" We laughed heartily, acting silly like the two twelve-year-old girls we were.
"But Nikolis, how many Black folks in Trenton do you know with McQuaige as a last name? As a matter of fact, how many Black folks in this country have a Scottish surname? Tell you what; I'm going to call you NikkiMac. I think that's a really cool nickname for you; it's jazzy."
I remember thinking; Jacee has forgotten the whole American slavery experience. How does she think most Black folks in America got their last names? Where does she think Jackson, her last name, came from? It certainly didn't come from Africa!
One of the things I loved about her from the start was her energetic, effervescent personality. I quickly found out that she often talked off the top of her head, so I dutifully nailed her down to facts. This never seemed to bother her, though.
We found each other when we were both nine years old and in the fourth grade at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in Trenton, New Jersey. Jacee and her family moved from North Carolina to our east Trenton neighborhood.
"Class, we have a new student named Jacee. She just moved to Trenton from North Carolina." Miss Major, our teacher, waited for us to get quiet and pay attention.
"Let's all politely greet Jacee."
I looked up from my math assignment and stared into the large, hazel brown eyes of a skinny, bowlegged, bushy-haired girl with skin the color of milk chocolate. She blinked nervously and squeezed out a crooked smile as we all chanted on cue, "Hello Jacee. Welcome to our class."
"Thank you. It's nice to meet you all. I'm Jacee Fontinetta Jackson." She twisted a section of her afro with her fingers and slowly looked at all of us.
I don't know why, but I got up from my seat and approached her. "There's an empty seat next to mine because Claretha transferred to Grant School. You can be my new desk partner, Jacee. Is that okay with you, Miss Major?"
"That's fine, Nikolis. You can help Jacee get accustomed to our class and school routines."
That was the beginning of the BFF (Best Friends Forever) life of Nikolis McQuaige and Jacee Fontinetta Jackson. Later that day, Jacee and I discovered that we lived around the corner from each other. She lived on Hart Avenue, and I lived on Poplar Street. There was an alley behind our streets, where all the neighborhood children played many games of Hide and Seek; Hide and Go Get It; One, Two, Three, Red Light, and anything else that allowed us to run and holler. At dusk, when the streetlights came on, we all knew it was curfew, so we'd head to our houses for the night. From my bedroom window at the rear of my house, I could see Jacee's back bedroom window. Many nights we'd blink our bedroom lights, signaling to each other with codes we created.
We were graduated from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School and attended Junior High School Number One from the seventh through ninth grade. Our junior and senior high school classmates called us "The Twins," but not because we looked alike. Jacee's dark brown skin contrasted with my buttery skin tone. Her fluffy wild afro framed a heart-shaped face that was punctuated with her incredible hazel eyes. Jacee's short, petite frame was in perfect proportion. She resembled a delicate doll, but she was feisty and full of energy. I was considered a redbone because of my light complexion and red hair. My freckles and heavy eyebrows added a curiosity to my face. More handsome than pretty, I wore my hair long and straight, with short bangs. I was always fuller in body and taller than Jacee. Though we were physically different, the twins' moniker stuck because we were inseparable.
After high school, we attended and were graduated from Rutgers University. True to our twins' behavior, we both majored in Urban Teacher Education. Following graduation, we gained employment as teachers in the Trenton Public School system. This is where we had to separate. Even though we sought to work in the same elementary school, it didn't happen. I was assigned to a school in west Trenton and Jacee to a school in east Trenton. Yet, we still pursue our passion to educate urban children. I often smile when I think about the fact that we have been together since elementary school.
Now I am forty years old, and like most of my sisters in America, I struggle to keep my weight down. I carry 150 pounds on a 5 foot 7 inch curvy frame. The cool thing is that my figure is fairly proportionate: 38 inch bust, 32 inch waist, 38 inch hips. I have big legs and a booty that draws attention. I used to like that attention when I was in my twenties, fingerpoppin' at the club. Jacee and NikkiMac used to show out on the dance floor. The guys loved it.
"Go on, girl, with all that junk in your trunk!"
"Shake it, but don't break it, Pretty Mama!"
"Work your body, work your body. Make sure you don't hurt nobody!"
Back in the day, I loved hearing men in the club say these things to me. I'd reward my admirers with an extra wiggle, a wink, and a sexy smile. You couldn't tell me a thing back in those high-spirited, party-minded days; but now I'm glad they're behind me. At age thirty, even though I was enjoying it less, I was still hanging out on the weekends. Most of the time, Jacee was right there with me. I think it was more that she wanted to be wherever I was than that she wanted to be at the club. Fortunately, thanks to an experience with both a devil and an older Christian man, I had what I guess one would call an epiphany.
"Enough," I thought. "Why am I getting all dressed up to sit at a club trying to see how many drinks I can get for free, knowing that I'm not giving up any booty at the end of the night? Why spend two to four hours with people who don't know the real me? Why seek attention from folks who don't know I have a working brain? Why tease married men? I've been there, done that, and I'm not proud of it. What am I doing to myself? What is my life's purpose? Why did God put me on this earth?" It dawned on me that I was spending a lot of time with folks who were going in a different direction than the way I wanted to go. I was hanging out as a diversion from taking a serious look at my personal life.
I'll never forget my last night of partying at the club.
"See you all later," I called to my acquaintances, Leisha and Nicole, at Club Taste. The club was my hangout place on Friday and Saturday nights. Located on Olden Avenue, it was just over the bridge, not far from my house. Club Taste was nestled into a corner of the Captain's Plaza Shopping Center. I was partying without Jacee because she had to work at her part-time job. Alex Carson, my guy pal, had been partying with me earlier, but he had to leave for another engagement.
"Goodnight, NikkiMac. Drive safely." Leisha and Nicole raised their glasses of gin and tonic.
"I'll check you out next weekend, Theo." I turned and winked at Theo, the bartender who innocently flirted with me on a regular basis. It was all in fun, because I knew, like everyone else, that Theo's woman, Mabel, would mollywhop any woman who seriously tried to hit on her man. She could smell a man-stealing woman and would come out of the club's kitchen looking as mean as a snake. I stayed on Mabel's good side, because I am not really a fighter. I am also not a punk. I simply prefer to use my brain instead of my fists and fingernails.
"Catch you later, NikkiMac." Theo flashed his crooked smile my way as he continued rinsing bar glasses.
The loud music from Club Taste crashed into the quiet night as I clumsily pushed open the club's door. I mumbled to myself, "Maybe this cold air will sober me up some so I can safely drive home. No more partying for me tonight. Two drinks is my limit, but tonight I sucked up four gin and tonics. Got to drive home real slowly." I heard my heels clacking on the parking lot's asphalt. I saw my red Chevy about ten feet away; a black SUV was now parked very close to it. Then I saw the SUV's driver side door open and a man get out. He stepped into my path and blocked me from my car door.
"NikkiMac, you sure look good tonight. Good enough to take a little ride with me," Darius Muse said with a deep, slow drawl. He licked his bottom lip from corner to corner while staring at me suggestively. Darius Muse always sat at the dark end of the Club Taste bar. I never accepted the drinks he sent me because Darius made me nervous, always staring and licking his bottom lip.
"Excuse me, Mr. Muse, would you please move so I can open my car door? It's late and I have to get home." I spoke firmly and tried to cover my unease with a professional tone and a fake smile.
"So you do know my name, even though you've never accepted the friendly drinks I've sent to you. You have to get home for what? For who? I know you aren't married and you must not have a man, because you're here every weekend. NikkiMac, I'm not used to being ignored by the ladies." Darius leaned his body into mine and pushed me back against my car's driver side door. At first, I froze. My mind tried to register that this man had the nerve to actually touch me. I felt his arms reach around and hug me close against his slim, firm body. I felt his hard chest and muscular thighs; the arousal in his groin area. He seemed to enjoy the intimidation. He pressed his full lips against mine. I turned my head to the side to break kiss contact. So he slapped me across my cheek. It burned and my eyes watered. It felt like his handprint was etched into my cheek. Suddenly, rage roared up from my gut, surged into my chest, up in my throat, and into my mouth.
"Fool! You hit me! Who do you think you are?" I screamed, bared my teeth, and bit into the side of Darius' neck. I didn't see any, but I thought I tasted blood. Darius howled and pulled back his fist to punch me. Then I saw a flashlight's beam near the trunk of my car. A stocky older man with broad shoulders appeared behind Darius. "Where did he come from?" I thought.
"Young man, you need to leave this little lady alone. Back up, step aside, and let her get into her car so she can go." I said a silent prayer and scampered away from Darius. The older man, who I now saw had a silver gun with the barrel pointed downwards, gestured for me to come over to him. I quickly moved next to my rescuer.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Pace, no disrespect intended. She one of your people?" Darius rubbed his neck and walked to his car. He moved cautiously and respectfully while eyeing Mr. Pace's gun-toting right hand.
Mr. Pace addressed me. "What's your name, young lady?"
"I'm NikkiMac." I was glad to see this muscular, resolved, and armed senior citizen. To me, he looked like a chocolate, gray haired Superman. Mr. Pace focused on Darius.
"Man, you know better than to force yourself on a woman; you see she don't want you! Go on about your business, and don't let me catch you putting your hands on a woman again." Mr. Pace chuckled, "She bit the mess out of you, didn't she? It serves you right."
Darius drove off, but not without giving me a dirty look. "You might want to go to your doctor and get tested if you broke his skin and drew blood. Can't be too careful about body fluids these days. He ought to be glad you didn't call the police and press charges," fussed Mr. Pace.
"Oh no, I don't want to go through all that. My face will be alright. It wouldn't look good that I was out this late, leaving a bar, tipsy. I think my employer would frown on it."
"You're more worried about what your employer thinks than what you think of yourself?" He smiled gently, his gray mustache spread across his full top lip. "Sorry, young lady. I didn't mean to lecture; I know you're grown. My name is Foster Pace; I'm a Christian and a custodian at a church near here. I walk at night, that's the way I take my exercise, and also when I do some of my best thinking. Anyway, it's a good thing I cut through the plaza parking lot tonight, or Darius might have given you a lot more trouble. Got to be more careful, Miss NikkiMac. Are you all right to drive home?"
I shook my head from side to side, and started sniffling. It all came down on me then. "I'm so ashamed of myself. I know better than this. He could have raped me, killed me..." Mr. Pace put his arm around my shoulders.
"Stop crying. I'm going to take you home. You can get your car tomorrow when it's daytime and your head is clear. Miss NikkiMac, I'm just going to say this: God loves you. He wants what's good for you; this drinking and partying at clubs isn't good for you." Mr. Pace reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a cloth handkerchief. "Here, take this and wipe your face." His voice was gentle; he was like a caring father talking to his young child. Next, he handed me a tract that briefly told about the church. Then he drove me to my home, watched me go inside, and drove off.
A few weeks later, I stepped inside the lobby of the church and walked right up to Mr. Foster Pace. He smiled broadly. "You finally made it, Miss NikkiMac. You'll be blessed for coming. Thank you for being here."
I observed the service and noted five distinct parts: congregational a cappella singing, prayer, communion, preaching, and offering. Minister Johnson met with me after service and explained about being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. That really appealed to me, because I knew I'd sinned in my life. Most of my past sins I'd pretty much forgotten. But there were a couple I'd never been able to squash away; they nested in the secret parts of my soul ...
In the twenty-fifth year of my life, I had a married lover. This man was older and supposedly wiser. We met at an Educators' Showcase Conference in his hometown of Philadelphia. For six months, he treated me to marvelous dinners, shows, and wonderful gifts. Greg said he was instantly attracted to my combination of intelligence and energy. I was instantly attracted to his lavish attention.
In less than a year, the bottom fell out.
"NikkiMac, you can't abort our baby! You can't take its life. This is so wrong!"
"No, Greg, what's wrong is me screwing around with a married man! I blame nobody but myself for that. I'm pregnant because of the one time I let you convince me a condom wasn't necessary. Well, once was all it took!" My body shook with anger. I sensed the tiny organism in my uterus pulling at me like a tight, possessive scab.
"NikkiMac, you know my wife is unable to have children. You can't kill the only child I might ever have!" Greg had the nerve to look pitiful. I wondered what I'd been thinking by hooking up with him.
"Have you lost your cotton-picking mind, Greg? I am at the beginning of my teaching career; I'm not about to raise a baby alone! You certainly can't do anything to help me; your wife would kill you! What am I supposed to do when I start showing and folks want to know about the baby's father? What about the child's questions about his or her father?"
His lips kept moving but I heard nothing that made any sense. I walked a few steps away from him, turned back, and announced, "Greg, tonight is the last time I intend for us to see or hear from each other. It was fun while it was fun, but now it's messy. I simply do not plan to have your baby." My hard expression told him that I was done with it and there was no need for him to say or do anything else.
The next day I went to the clinic and handled my business. The evidence of my sin was removed from my body, but not from my soul.
Excerpted from Behind Church Doors by Sylvia Brown-Roberts Copyright © 2009 by Sylvia Brown-Roberts . Excerpted by permission.
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